Dean Sappey, president and co-founder of DocsCorp shares the top 10 security features your redacted PDF should include.

Redaction was not a common term about 15 years ago unless one worked in the legal profession or was involved in a court case. More recently however, it has steadily worked its way into the everyday vernacular thanks to coverage of high-profile court cases and special counsel investigations in which redacted and unredacted documents played a central role. In fact, failed efforts to redact information in confidential and court documents have resulted in very public headlines.

Consider the Paul Manafort court case early this year, in which we learned he had shared 2016 polling data from the Trump campaign with his former Russian business partner Konstantin Kilimnik. This information was made public in documents that were improperly redacted. In August, redaction errors in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contract revealed payments to Palantir for its investigative case management software. More such instances can be found on the Internet, highlighting the need to understanding common redaction errors and how to avoid making them.

The Illusion of the Black Box

Redacting documents in the digital age is proving complicated for many. Why do so many get it wrong? The answer is simple: Too many people think masking content with black boxes is the same as redacting. It isn’t.

Generally, the process works like this: Confidential information is masked with a black box to hide what is underneath. The Word document is then converted to PDF. Or the document is converted to a PDF first and an annotation tool is used to mask the information in the PDF. In both cases, you end up with improper redaction.

It is important to understand that PDF documents are constructed in layers; text is on one layer, images are on another, all while bookmarks, links, and annotations are yet on others. As a result, all one has to do is copy and paste the text from the PDF into another document and the hidden text is exposed.

Making Redaction Fool-Proof

To eliminate the possibility of future redaction errors, many law firms have rightly concluded that a native PDF redaction tool is the only solution that burns out (i.e. completely removes) the information from the document once the redaction has been applied. The information cannot be undone or exposed later because it no longer exists in the file.

A native redaction tool also supports various workflows – search and redact; review and redact; and redact a page or range of pages – that make the process easier and faster..

Security Checklist

Here are the top 10 features your PDF redaction solution should include:

  1. The right redaction tool must burn out the text from the PDF to ensure it is completely removed from the document.
  2. It must handle all PDF types, including text PDFs and image PDFs. The tool should also be able to recognize each type and apply the redaction as needed.
  3. It should be able to permanently remove text, graphics and images from the PDF document.
  4. It should have the ability to search and redact. Specifically, you should be able to type in a word or string of words to locate them in the document, and then apply the redaction to one or all of them.
  5. It should also be able to quickly search for information in patterns such as credit card numbers, dates, email addresses and social security numbers and redact them.
  6. It should incorporate exemption codes to explain redaction, so when a word, image or an area of a document is redacted, the reader will know why the information is blacked out.
  7. It should facilitate redaction review workflow; when a paralegal or legal assistant first marks up a redaction ,it is then sent to a lawyer for final approval. The lawyer can then apply the redactions.
  8. It should provide the ability to redact a full page as well as a range of pages.
  9. It should protect the original document; when the redaction is applied or burned into the PDF document, it should not overwrite the original document.
  10. It should provide OCR workflows for capturing scanned documents and converting them to text-searchable PDFs.
Photo of Dean Sappey - DocsCorp Dean Sappey - DocsCorp

Dean Sappey is president and co-founder of DocsCorp, and works closely with key stakeholders to develop new products and ensure that existing applications deliver real benefits to workplaces. He speaks at international conferences and forums while overseeing DocsCorp’s international operations. Dean was shortlisted for the ILTA Thought Leader of the Year Award in 2015.